Metacritic averages? Pshh. See how those reviewer barbs glance from the glittering shields of the soldiers of Rome. Microsoft Studios head Mike Ybarra has offered up a few extended thoughts on middling critical reactions to Ryse: Son of Rome, observing that plenty of players have managed to enjoy the game regardless.
"Releasing new IP for a new generation of console hardware on launch day is no doubt one of the hardest software/hardware tasks in the industry," he began, when pushed on the subject by MyXboxLive. "It's also one of the most rewarding for any team. We knew the goals of the game early: introduce a new IP that sets a new bar for visuals while delivering an experience core gamers would enjoy.
"As with any new hardware platform, there is a lot of experimentation early on to see what the limits are. Also, there was a lot of getting used to new hardware and the best way to work with it, including daily changes to the SDK and code environment/capabilities. With the improvements to the Xbox One hardware, it required us to rethink how we structured some pieces of code.
"For example, setting up the streaming install that allowed the player to play while continuing to download took us a while to think through. It takes an experienced team to deal with continual hardware and software changes, some risk taking and a bit of luck to pull it off."
Among other developers, Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment has expressed relief at not having to release at launch. "It's tough to be one of the first ones out of the gate as you're affected by any problems there might be on Microsoft's or the server end," commented the studio's Abbie Heppe. "But anything like that will be fixed by the time we're out."
Another priority for the Ryse team was to create "a showcase experience that demonstrated the new visual fidelity and capabilities of the system", Ybarra continued. "From the very first concept phase of Ryse, we knew making the game visually stunning was important. It's really a set of trade-offs that are made across a wide range of different topics from effects, resolution, scripted/dynamic instances, etc. that when added up brings together both the visual and emotional experience you want users to have.
"I think the point that gets lost a lot is that it's all a game of trade-offs. Resolution alone is not the final determination regarding if a game looks great or not, it's one of many different levers and it's up to the game teams to decide what is best for their unique game experience."
So how did the developers at Crytek and Microsoft feel about the Ryse reviews? "Metacritic is a complicated topic in our industry," cautioned Ybarra. "At first, it was hard to see the numbers as they were lower than we wanted. That's always hard on any game team that puts a lot of time and effort into a game.
"On the other hand, we did see a lot of gamers saying they loved the game. If you look on Amazon, we are rated 4 out of 5 stars by direct consumers. While there were certainly things we wished we could have gotten in the game and we understand the key criticism, we are proud of Ryse and think it is a fun experience for our audience."
Any post-mortems to share? Our own reviewer Log quite enjoyed Ryse, but it's far from a classic, Roman or otherwise.
According to Microsoft's Phil Harrison, the Xbox One's launch games have "only scratched the surface". I wonder what audio-visual wonders await, a year or two from now?
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